A friend’s Denver wedding finally gave me the excuse I needed to see Colorado, having never visited, and another friend giving in to the trip made for a surprisingly perfect three-day adventure.
I usually plan and research thoroughly before visiting a new destination, but there are too many Colorado aficionados in my life to trust the same standard travel recommendations. Staying with my first NYC roommate who grew up in Denver and returned, texting my brother whose favorite escape is Colorado Springs, and trusting the newlyweds’ local insight, we developed a balanced variety of stops—virtually a sampler of the state—with enough food, nature, entertainment and athletics to please any first-time visitor.
We kicked off day one with an obvious pick: a Colorado Rockies game. You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate a major team playing at home, and a nice facility always enhances the experience. I love watching local die-hards come together around a team, especially with a good rival in town, and this is as much a representation of a destination as a museum or restaurant. These stadiums become attractions, landmarks even, and Denver has three in the heart of downtown. It didn’t hurt that the Rockies won, particularly because the heat was in the 90s! Quick tip: Nosebleed seats are as low as $5, but we had an awesome view for only $20, and don’t worry, Coors Field has other brews available, too.
While in downtown Denver, don’t miss Snooze, the most highly recommended local spot. This breakfast dig is open through the afternoon and may have a wait, but will undoubtedly fill you up for a day of exploring. Our party feasted on pineapple upside down pancakes, plain ol’ chocolate chip pancakes, and the out-of-this-world Sandwich I Am. Most are happy to hear there’s a full bar no matter what time of day it is, and the atmosphere is pretty funky.
After a good ball game we rounded out the day at Denver’s oldest restaurant: Buckhorn Exchange. This Denver Landmark is full of history…and 550 pieces of taxonomy. Sit down to buffalo, quail, alligator, elk, lamb, and duck with the heads of each staring down at you. And that’s just how much the four of us tried. The bar upstairs has the first Colorado liquor license after prohibition and the likes of five presidents and generations of celebrities have dined here. We opted for a drink at Pints Pub though, where we gawked at the largest selection of single malt whiskey outside of Scotland. It’s worth a stop even if you don’t fancy scotch, for a neighborly corner pub.
The next day we devoted to Colorado Springs, primarily to see Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak, with a passing glance at the Air Force Academy from the highway. The two-hour drive had me on the edge of my seat with increasingly beautiful scenery. To stare in awe of the mountains the entire way and end driving right up to the top is quite the accomplished day trip, and you truly can’t pass up these stops. Garden of the Gods is a beautiful—and free—park with red rock formations against a Rockies backdrop. This is a quick stop with both walking paths and a driving tour, which was convenient for the one of us on crutches.
Right down the road we finally reach Pike’s Peak, which takes about 40 minutes to drive up and costs about $14 per car (there’s also a train you can ride instead). The winding road to the top has breathtaking views and beautifully serene nature. This was the perfect time of year to visit, as temperatures drop towards the summit. Quick tip: drink plenty of water before ascending to avoid fainting from the altitude, especially you Floridians. The top is something you have to experience for yourself, an unforgettable view and overall experience, quintessentially Coloradoan.
We head back towards our home base in Denver where our schedule magically syncs with Red Rocks’ summer movie series. Despite our last-minute investigation into the iconic music venue, we have the opportunity to watch Office Space, after a local band and comedian perform, among thousands of locals. This much entertainment in an insanely impressive setting was simply too much fun, and such a great way to conclude our second day.
Day three took us in the opposite direction to Fort Collins where we toured New Belgium Brewery, where Fat Tire is made. This facility was fascinating, with a tour guide who seemed determined to recruit us as employees and a process that other major breweries drool over. This is the first, and I believe still only, brewery run entirely through wind power. I can assure you every other aspect of the place is equally as sustainable and the beer was so good straight from the source we sampled every variety.
Following the tour, tasting, sobering, and souvenirs, we took a local’s dinner recommendation of Mexican at El Rio Grande where we chowed down on fajitas and guacamole on a happening patio with a water fountain centerpiece. Fort Collins was a low-key, welcoming spot to round out our long weekend, and New Belgium provided the best brewery tour I have yet to enjoy. Quick tip: Book your tour online in advance as they fill up fast.
In three short days I became completely enchanted with Colorado and can’t recommend these destinations enough. If I had scoured restaurant reviews or planned for months, I couldn’t have recreated this ideal of a trip. We truly took in the perfect balance of Colorado’s distinct charms and left room for so much more on future visits. I would’ve loved to hike, mountain bike, camp, take on Six Flags, or even venture into the highly acclaimed water park, but don’t feel I missed out a bit with my fractured hip.
- a little good here: Colorado had gone green before green was in. These were the most environmentally conscious people I’ve ever met. They use wind power, recycling’s second nature, and parking spaces have electric car chargers.
- a long way: If nothing else, take notes and spread the trend. Pick up biking to work or separating your paper and plastics. Most importantly, see how you can help after the heartbreaking fires that recently swept over Colorado Springs, whether by supporting friends in the area or donating to local aid. The beauty that was destroyed cast a spell on me in three days, I can’t imagine watching it disappear if I called it home.
What are your must-see’s in Denver or beyond? What makes Colorado special for you? I’ll take your word for it after such a great guide-free first visit.